NEXT GOAL WINS
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Oscar Kightley, Kaimana, David Fane, Beulah Koale, Rachel House, Elisabeth Moss, Will Arnett, Uli Layukefu, and Taika Waititi
Director: Taika Waititi
As someone who loves Jojo Rabbit (also directed by Taika Waititi) and also played soccer for 20+ years, it felt like Next Goal Wins was made for me to love it. Turns out, this wasn’t the case. The childlike humour mostly misses the mark, and Waititi’s treatment of the transgendered Jaiyah Saelua (Kaimana) is mishandled. On top of that, this is a sports film that failed the main objective of the genre: get me invested in the team. I just couldn’t get myself to care. Admittedly, the bar is higher coming from Waititi - it’s not a complete lost cause - but this can only be seen as a disappointment.
After years of delays, I've finally seen Next Goal Wins and...it's solid, I guess. If you're not into co-writer/director Taika Watiti's sense of humour, this isn't gonna change your mind; however, as someone who is into his style, I found the film quite funny. As a crowd pleaser, Next Goal Wins works, and the film boasts a funny cast, led by an amazing Michael Fassbender, but the writing is quite weak in terms of characterization and story structure. Plus, its portrayal of American Samoa as careless goofballs is a little reckless. Although it's a good time, it’s not necessary viewing.
Since 2017, director Taika Waititi has been largely hit-and-miss with both his acting and directing, and unfortunately with Next Goal Wins, he may have officially tipped the scales in the wrong direction. His brand of slapstick comedy has gotten old, and while there are a few laughs within the film, too many land like a bombed stand-up comedy set. It’s even more blatant when juxtaposed to the heart and care Waititi puts into the film’s dramatic aspects (the storyline surrounding stand-out Kaimana is particularly heartwarming), but those poignant moments are almost always ruined by the next flat joke.
For better or worse, Next Goal Wins is exactly what you might expect from the directorial style of Taika Waititi. It stumbles off the starting blocks, making me doubt the level of care being taken with the portrayal of the American Samoan people. But once I warmed up to its style and characters, I found the film to be quirky and charming in just enough ways to make it a gratifying experience. Its biggest success is the life-loving message to not take things so damn seriously and just have fun, which I personally took to heart.
This film was reviewed by Nick and Adriano as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.